Alumna transitions to pediatric intensive care in wake of COVID-19

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As the pandemic continues in the U.S., many nurses continue to adapt their roles to help on the front lines in hospital settings. Penn State alumna Brianna Lowry transitioned from being a registered nurse at St. Joseph’s Trinity in Dunmore, Pennsylvania, before the pandemic, to currently serving in New York City in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

Brianna Lowry

Brianna Lowry

Credit: Provided

Although she has never worked in an intensive care unit before, Lowry said she is taking what she learned in her undergraduate and post-graduate experiences to work hard and fulfill unique needs to help New York City, one of the COVID-19 hotspots in the country, and its continuing fight against the pandemic.

The College of Nursing talked to Lowry recently about her experiences.

Q: What was your role before the COVID-19 pandemic?

Lowry: I’m an RN (registered nurse) at St. Joseph’s Trinity in Dunmore, Pennsylvania. Luckily, my director is amazing. She supported me coming to NYC. I’m thankful to St. Joseph’s for all they do for our community. They were willing to allow me to come to NYC to help another state in need. In my eyes, that’s amazing. I feel blessed to work there.

Q: How has your role evolved to respond to the pandemic?

Lowry: Here in NYC I am working in the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit). I’ve never worked in an ICU. But all of us who responded did our very best to fulfill any needs the NYC hospitals required.

Q: How has the pandemic impacted your view of nursing’s role in patient care?

Lowry: In nursing school you read and learn about pandemics. But you never actually think you would work through one. I never thought I would be doing what I am doing when I graduated nursing school five years ago at Penn State Scranton.

This pandemic is challenging as a nurse in every way possible. Patient care has changed. Families are not allowed in. I have never seen so many patients this sick, all at once.

When completing patient care you have to really think about every single thing you do. Making sure you have absolutely everything you need prior to going into a COVID-19 positive room. The goal is to keep the patient safe while doing your best to protect yourself and everyone else from this virus.

Q: How have people supported you in having to quickly adapt to change in your work?

Lowry: I’ve always felt I had a nurse/work family wherever I worked. But coming to NYC really showed me this bond is universal. They took me right in and have treated me like one of their own since day one. Everyone is willing to work together to give the patients the best care and keep one another safe.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you have had to face during the pandemic?

Lowry: Everything about this pandemic has been challenging. The worst part is doing everything you and the medical professionals possibly can and still losing a patient. These are things that just replay in your mind. It’s difficult to work through that.

Q: What have you done to keep in high spirits during this difficult time?

Lowry: Now that I’m in my second part of this deployment I am off at least one to two days a week. I usually try to catch up on sleep, rest, go for a walk in Central Park, and pray. I really miss home and enjoying my usual walks in the woods. Central Park is the closest to green grass and trees that I’ve been able to enjoy while here.

My family and friends have been doing a wonderful job with sending cards and packages. That truly lifts my spirits.

Q: What is your favorite part of your current role in nursing?

Lowry: It’s hard to say I’d have a favorite part here. Because I wish this virus didn’t exist. If I had to say something that makes a difference for me, I would say the appreciation the staff here in NYC and people in general of NY have had for us who have traveled to help fight COVID-19. Also, knowing I’m helping these sick patients. On my difficult days, I try to remember all the people I’ve helped and the staff who are a little more relieved due to us coming for this crisis. I’m appreciative for learning in the PICU. 

Q: What is something you would say to other nurses working during the pandemic?

Lowry: You’re doing a phenomenal job. I know you’re tired. I know this is the most difficult thing we’ve seen, but keep going. You are making a difference. Protect yourselves and each other. If you need to talk to someone, reach out. You are not alone.

Q: What’s something you would say to current Penn State students?

Lowry: My favorite part of Penn State was the instructors. I’ve personally messaged them while I was here to thank them. I wouldn’t be able to be here if I hadn’t learned from the very best. They shaped me into who I am. They help mold me into the nurse I am today. I am forever grateful for them.

To current Penn State nursing students, I know times are hard. I know this virus is scary. I know it’s hard learning online. But continue to do so. I promise you every class is important and if you’re cutting corners in nursing school, you’re going to have a rude awakening when you are a nurse out on your own. Trust your instructors. They have high expectations of you during nursing school because they are preparing you for the real world of nursing. They are shaping you to be the next generation of amazing nurses.

So as a nurse, I am asking you to continue to put your all into nursing school because one day we may be working side to side, I’ll need to be able to rely on you. I’m forever thankful for the education I received at Penn State Scranton and World Campus.

 "We Are" stories

The "We Are" spirit is perhaps more important than ever before, and Penn Staters everywhere are coming together in new and amazing ways. During these challenging times, our community is continuing to realize Penn State's commitment to excellence through acts of collaboration, thoughtfulness and kindness. As President Eric Barron has written on Digging Deeper, this truly is a "We Are" moment — and we want to hear your "We Are" stories.

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